The silent but deadly academic third space: Illuminations of power/knowledge relationships about the ‘difference’ between university academic and professional portfolios

Year: 2019

Author: Weuffen, Sara, Pappaluca, Kim, Warren, Sara

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Teaching quality and student satisfaction has become a hot topic for academic governance over the past twenty years. Over this time, there has been an increased reliance on student satisfaction surveys, and peer-review mentor programs, as measures by which teaching quality is assessed. With a widening uptake of blended, or online, modes of learning across the tertiary sector, universities that have traditionally excelled at face-to-face delivery are theoretically and practically challenged to maintain excellence. One way in which some universities have attempted to overcome these challenges is by establishing centralised learning and teaching teams who roles focus on enhancing pedagogy, irrespective of delivery mode. Staff employed within these teams possess a range of expertise, including skills and knowledge relating to pedagogy and technological advancements. This breadth and depth of expertise possessed by these staff transcends traditional binary discourses of academic and professional portfolios as separate entities. This has created a third space in academia; a space where both professional and academic activities converge. According to Whitchurch (2010) this space is emergent and dynamic because it pushes the boundaries of dominant hegemonic discourses that promote concepts of individualism, isolation, and privilege.

In this presentation, we draw upon our own specialist theoretical understandings of the third space – Poststructuralism; Critical Social Theory; Interpretive Phenomenology – to illuminate issues that arise in our day-to-day professional lives when responsibility for enhancing teaching quality is tasked, but little authority given. As three early career researchers employed within a centralised learning and teaching unit at a multi-campus, multi-sector regional university, we explore our experiences of straddling both the professional and academic portfolios to influence teaching quality. In doing so, we trouble normative discourses of academic superiority. By highlighting our experiences, we ask, to what capacity can employees within a centralised learning and teaching unit promote the value, validity, and power of a third space to build and foster relationships, influence a more socially-just education environment, interrogate hegemonic university structures, and influence teaching quality.